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June 22, 2013

Essex leads switch to regional dispatch

MIDDLETON — Essex will be the first town to switch over to the new regional emergency communications center at the front of Middleton Jail next week.

Essex will start using the new dispatch system on Monday, followed by Wenham on Wednesday, according to the Essex County Sheriff’s office.

Essex Police Chief Peter Silva said there has been much behind-the-scenes planning to prepare for the switch.

“We are expecting a very smooth transition,” he said.

Wenham Town Administrator Mark Andrews said the transition includes the installation of new antenna equipment, upgrading phone systems and providing training on new equipment.

“This is the culmination of a number of years of public safety planning for new technology and service to the public,” Andrews said. The center will provide the town with more modern technology in dispatching emergency crews, he said.

“There shouldn’t be any dramatic changes,” said Wenham police Chief Thomas Perkins. “The phone numbers will all remain the same.

Maurice Pratt, assistant superintendent for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, said work was done this week to tie in all the different phone systems, computers and radio systems.

“This has been a collaboration of a lot of people and we are confident we will be ready for Monday,” he said.

“This is a step in creating a unified public safety network for Essex County,” Pratt said. “It is going to be a better service for the public and emergency services will be able to better share information.”

After years of planning, ground was broken for the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center in October. State grants paid for its construction, technology and communications equipment.

When the $10 million, 10,000 square foot center is fully operational, it will also handle 911 police and fire calls for Amesbury, Beverly, Middleton and Topsfield. That’s only a fraction of what is designed to handle, however. The six communities encompass 80,000 people, but the center has the capacity to handle an area with more than 200,000, Pratt said.

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